-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

There is a mesquite tree in my front yard that my children love, and for that reason, it’s the most important tree in my life. My oldest loves this tree because “It looks weird and cool and spooky, and it’s fun to climb.” I think my twins like the tree because they can climb it too. What is amazing about this tree, however, is that it began as a small seed, and that this tree is as big, massive, and majestic below the ground as it is above.

Mesquite is native to the desert where I live. When the mesquite seed sprouts, the new plant sends down a long taproot. As the tree grows, this taproot can reach as far as 200 feet below ground. Having a deep taproot is important, because if the tree’s roots can reach down to the groundwater, the mesquite tree will have the water it needs to thrive. No one sees this process, but the tree ‘knows’ what to do. Expending nearly all its energy growing in ways no one can see, a mesquite tree is as marvelous underground as it is above. 

As caring professionals, our work is much the same. We have outcomes set by others and goals we set for ourselves. Understandably, we want to see some visible evidence that what we are doing matters. However, while working towards goals is important—individually, as a team, and as an organization—what probably matters more are all the small actions, micromoves, we take to make the larger outcome possible.

A micromove is 1) an action you make towards achieving your goals that is so small that few would ever know you were doing it, and 2) powerful enough to build the habits you need for dramatic, visible results.

For example, I recently hosted two webinars on self-care for caring professionals around the country. We had about 90 participants over the two days, and each participant came with a goal to become more mindful of how they cared for themselves. Using the Eight Dimensions of Wellness as a framework, each person chose to think about their own physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, or environmental wellness.

What I noticed was that while most of the group felt overwhelmed by the idea of winning a gold medal at self-care, taking each dimension of wellness one at a time helped people consider what micromoves they might take towards improving their self-care practice. Here are some examples of micromoves, as well as examples of actions that would likely work, but might not be micro for most people.

Dimension of WellnessMicromoveEffective, not micro.
PhysicalPut on my running shoes after lunch.Run a 10K every day.
IntellectualListen to a podcast cooking dinner.Enroll in a four-year degree program.
EmotionalTake a deep breath before calling someone who’s likely to be upset.Recruit a counselor to attend all difficult phone calls.
SocialWhen I write a work email, consider texting a friend or partner.Make a list of my friends and schedule 1:1 zoom calls to check in all of them.
SpiritualWrite down a list of values that I have. “To be a good human being, I believe it’s essential to be [one word answer].” Look at them once or twice a week.Before participating in any activity, ask “Does this connect to my idea of my life’s meaning?”
Vocational Schedule time to look into what it might take to become [a position / career] I’ve always wanted.Leave my current position and spend a month reflecting on what work would be most meaningful to me.
EnvironmentalWhen I change activity, tidy up whatever I can in one minute.Marie Kondo.
Micromoves get us started. The power of micromoves is to make them a habit.

Committing to a micromove is not committing to a diluted version of what we want to accomplish for ourselves or for our organizations. Micromoves are about making sure our first actions align with who we are and what we want to accomplish. For example, if your goal is self-care, micromoves are powerful, because they are so small that they don’t require much time or investment to get started, and because over time, self-care is no longer an aspiration but rather a daily habit.

Once in a while, if there is something big that you’ve been wanting to do, a big, dramatic launch might be a good way to start. For example, I once followed Marie Kondo’s method of throwing away anything that didn’t spark joy, and it worked. Now, it’s much easier for me to keep things clean, and I tend to reflect more before bringing more stuff into my workspace. However, now that the big, dramatic de-cluttering has already happened, micromoves are what keeps my space clean. Whenever I change an activity, I set a one minute timer and clean up whatever I can. This small micromove is really what is keeping my desk clean. If you or your team is planning a big launch for something, it’s essential to consider what micromoves you and your team can commit to doing the next day and each day after to ensure that your initiative grows deep roots.

What can be challenging about micromoves is that few people will notice what we’re doing until they see the change. Micromoves will not accomplish even a fraction of our highest aspirations. They’re not supposed to. Rather, micromoves are the first movements we make towards aligning our energy, time, and resources towards what matters most. By focusing on small, achievable shifts, we accumulate one success after another, building habits needed to put our best ideas to good use.

If you’d like to increase the good that you or your team are able to do, consider whether there might be a micromove you can commit to that gets you started. I’m eager to hear how it works out!

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